Gathering friends and family together might feel more special this year than ever before, and nothing is as welcoming as a beautifully set table. “Now, more than ever, is a time to really reflect on the gratitude we have for one another and for our time together,” says Kendra Kimball, a Denver–and Los Angeles–based stylist and event planner who created this tablescape for six guests. “I designed this table by asking, ‘What can I do to connect people on a deeper level and make them feel loved and valued?’” Her answers can help you set a welcoming scene for your next (intimate) dinner party:

Kendra Kimball Dining Table
Bronze plates from West Elm, orange pillar candles, and black chairs from local design house Atla add to the warmth of this autumnal table. Photo by Jimena Peck, Styling by Kendra Kimball

1. Find inspiration. It can be anything: a menu, pretty glasses inherited from your grandmother, or the reason you’re celebrating. Here, Kimball imagined a nontraditional Thanksgiving, which led her to a warm color palette and decor that riffs on typical Turkey Day tropes: Instead of squash and pumpkins on the table, she used pears, figs, and kiwi in small groupings with florals (cut from a field across the street from her home), candles, and small bowls of gourmet chocolates and nuts.

2. Aim for connection. Kimball worked with friend and graphic-design whiz Jessie Zweibel to create “activation cards”—simple stationery that asks questions such as, “Where do you find beauty?” and “What makes you feel deeply alive?” Each person reads her question and then guests take turns answering. “These are important questions to ask, ideas to reflect on right now,” Kimball says.

Dinner Plate Kendra Kimball
Photo by Jimena Peck, Styling by Kendra Kimball

3. Make it your own. Kimball likes to quote design scion Kelly Wearstler: “Take something and give it a new spirit.” That might mean bending the rules of etiquette by placing all of the utensils on the left side of each place setting or tying napkins in a casual knot instead of a more formal fold. “Once, I used wrapping paper as a table runner,” Kimball says. “I used what I had, which is a great approach. It feels unexpected and friendly.”

4. Incorporate all five senses. Place a candle (Capri Blue’s Volcano is Kimball’s favorite) by the front door to delight your guests when they walk in. Put on a playlist that matches your theme’s mood (Kimball’s go-to artists include Nick Leng, Kate Bollinger, and the Bahamas). Choose a handmade element or two for added visual and tactile appeal (Kimball found these hand-painted water glasses at Food52, “and they’re absolutely lovely,” she says.).

5. Garnish, garnish, garnish. To give guests an opportunity to customize their meals, Kimball provides toppings such as pumpkin seeds, vegan parmesan, or edible flowers on the table. “Garnish provides an extra touch that says, ‘This was curated for you.’” Kimball says.

Scenes From Quarantine

With plenty of extra time at home this summer, Kimball gave herself a challenge: Create artful tablescapes for small gatherings using items she had in her own home. You can find the gorgeous results— and more practical details on her approach to setting a pretty scene—at her website under “Quaran’scenes.”

Hilary Masell Oswald
Hilary Masell Oswald
As the former editor for two of 5280’s ancillary publications, Hilary Masell Oswald split her time between the vibrant design-and-architecture scene in the metro area for 5280 Home and the always-changing field of health for the annual 5280 Health.